DTA dumps on blockchain, again 

James Riley
Editorial Director

The Digital Transformation Agency only used a small amount of its allocated funding to investigate the use of blockchain to deliver government services, and will not produce a roadmap for the emerging technology after becoming less than enthused by its potential.

The DTA was handed $700,000 in the 2018-19 budget to research the benefits to government of using the blockchain following a personal request from former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

But DTA chief digital officer Peter Alexander told a senate estimates hearing on Monday night that the project was completed and only $200,000 of the money had been spent.

Peter Alexander: A lack of standardisation for blockchain remains an obstacle for government users

The funds were reallocated from within the DTA, so are now going towards the agency’s other projects.

“Because that money came from an allocation within the DTA, that is just in our broader appropriation base, and is being used for other priorities across the organisation looking at emerging technologies, digital identity and other things we’re doing,” Mr Alexander said.

The majority of the DTA’s work was done in collaboration with CSIRO’s Data61, while it also worked to develop blockchain prototypes with the Department of Human Services and other agencies for delivering services.

After working on the project for less than six months, the DTA told a senate estimates hearing in October that blockchain is at the “top of a hype cycle”, and that “for every use of blockchain that you would consider today there is a better technology”.

It unveiled its advice to government in February this year, advising departments to focus on the actual problem rather than jumping to embrace new technologies like blockchain, saying it is a “solution looking for a problem” currently.

At senate estimates this week, Mr Alexander said the biggest issue holding back the use of blockchain by the government is in the lack of standardisation.

“The overwhelming and major concern with blockchain today is a lack of standardisation. A lot of companies are looking at blockchain technology without a standard,” Mr Alexander said.

“For most government uses there are alternate technologies we would choose today that are more mature and more standardised,” he said.

“We might choose the betamax version of blockchain when other organisations are using VHS, and then someone else will come along and use DVDs and Blu-Ray. In the end, all we want to do is watch a movie, and we’ve chosen an implementation that isn’t going to interoperate with others.”

The immutability of blockchain records and concerns over who holds the ultimate authority of them are also issues facing the use of the technology by the government, the DTA said.

The DTA also confirmed it would not develop a roadmap for blockchain.

“It’s always the wrong way to go to have a roadmap for the technology – what we need to see is a roadmap for solving the problems of Australians and Australian businesses. We don’t need a technology roadmap to say here’s a series of technologies. We need to understand what they can do and engage with the public,” Mr Alexander said.

“At the moment we have no funds set aside for a technology roadmap. We have funds for user journeys and understanding the needs of Australian people and businesses and the services government delivers to them.”

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